Having won two girls’ state cross country championships over the last three years and returning the bulk of talent from the 2021 title squad, Pope John Paul II High School enters the new season once again the team to beat in the 1B/2B classification.
However, if summer training sessions are any indication, the Eagles may also be raising a boys’ state banner at season’s end.
“Everyone is very excited for this season,” said senior captain Moriah Steinbrecher.
They certainly are and how can they not be as Pope John Paul II has 33 runners turning out this year – a number made even more impressive given the small student body at the school. It is also a number that head coach Larry Weber believes will grow in size once classes get going.
“We normally draw in a few more kids once school starts up,” Weber said. “We have a great group again this year. They put in a lot of work over the summer. They are very supportive of each other and super encouraging. Each team set goals the other day. They get together and set both team goals and individual goals. I don’t set the goals for them. I will tell them what their potential, but they set their own goals. So, we don’t put any pressure on them.”
Despite all the success, Weber and his staff never discusses winning with his runners. It’s always been about maximizing one’s potential.
“We’ve never made a goal that we are going to win state,” said Steinbrecher, a member of both Eagles’ state title teams. “We’re more focused on what we can accomplish within ourselves. I love to see how the team grows over the season. It’s amazing to see everyone reach their potential.”
The rest, such has league, district and state championships, tend to take care of itself once everyone on the team does that.
This season should be no different.
Pope John Paul II High School Cross Country Returns
Graduated from last year is Clare Kondrat, who finished fifth overall at the 1B/2B girls’ state meet and first among small school participants in 2021. But the Eagles welcome back the lion’s share of its roster.
In addition to Steinbrecher, Pope John Paul II also brings back senior Catelin King, who was third at state in the 1B classification and ninth overall, and sophomore Isabella Salvador, who placed 10th overall in state last season.
Two years ago, the Eagles claimed the program’s first state title by edging perennial powerhouse Liberty Bell by a mere six points in the team score. The team failed to have the opportunity to defend their title after the 2020 season was canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic, but returned last year to register title No. 2 by defeating Liberty Bell by 13 points.
“It all starts with Coach Weber,” Steinbrecher said about the team’s success. “He just motivates us to reach our God-given potential. And all the support we have I think it really filters down into our performance and helps build that solid base of friendship we have.”
Pope John Paul II High School Boys Cross Country Due for Win
While the PJP2 girls gear up for their run at a third state championship, the boys have position themselves nicely for their first state crown.
The team placed second in both 2019 and 2021, but returning is six of their seven state participants from last year and are coming off an extremely strong summer of training.
“They’re shaping up,” Weber said about the Eagle boys, a team that features its largest turnout of freshmen in program history. “The other day we had a two-mile time trial, just an internal one, and they had their best run ever as a team.”
Senior Luke Christensen and junior Kaden Harley are the team captains this season and comprise half of a group of Pope John Paul II runners who are all challenging to hold the Eagles’ top spot with junior Sam Rucker and senior Max Salvador rounding out the talented quartet.
“The top four guys are all within 15 seconds of each other. We’re just trying to stay close together and push each other,” Christensen said. “We really want to finish out our high school careers strong. Coach said we really looked great and set a course record on the time trial. We just want to give it our all and see what we can do.”
Usually around Pope John Paul II High School that results in championships banners.